Have pen, will travel. Sending letters.
A letter from home. In which are advocated benefit and use of keeping a diary.
a Happy New Year, my friend; hope you had a good start into this one. It’s one of the first days of the new year, morning, and I am sitting at my desk, still in the dressing gown I’ve just thrown on. It’s raining outside, but I’ve got a cup of hot coffee next to me, so why should I care. Right in front of me a worn leather-bound book sits on the desk. This book, you know, this is my journal.
Almost exactly a year ago, on New Year’s Eve in 2013, I thought about keeping track of the year ahead in a diary. I looked at it as some kind of experiment. Capturing the whole year: Each day an entry. While not completely new to keeping a journal (I can look back at quite a variety of travel journals and sketchbooks in the shelve right behind me), doing this each and every day still is some kind of a challenge; you probably can imagine. Sitting down each evening and thinking about what could have been noteworthy that day. Every day!
Well, actually … that’s the whole point of it, isn’t it? Of keeping a diary, I mean. Taking a minute or two and reflecting the day that just has passed. Focussing on key moments, on the quintessence of each day. So, why keeping a journal? It’s as easy as that, I think: To remember! Sure, we’ve taken 32 GB of photos during that awesome trip through Greenland a couple of years ago (I sent a letter from there, do you remember?). Plenty of memories. And actually these are some great pictures. But do photos also help to remember such simple things as the weather on that peculiar morning in Iceland? The air’s smell after the downpour in that Canarian laurel forest? “Unimportant, sentimental.” I hear you murmuring? What about the family of whales which were passing by in that Greenland fjord? Among the blurry photos, there’s one pretty impressing, true. But the real memory’s surely more than this, isn’t it? The invaluable feeling watching out of the tent this morning – still sleepy – and catching a glimpse of these giants blowing out there. Recollecting this kind of context of these peculiar moments in the journal – the colours, sounds, smells, and flavours – definitely helps to keep the memory alive. The written word has a somehow assortative power here, helping to get all those places, people, impressions, and emotions into sequence, tie them to each other and give the whole experience much more substance – in a long-term perspective. You just have to persuade yourself to observe the whole scene more thoroughly, perceiving all the little details. And by doing this, by putting these impressions down onto paper, one is also forced to adopt an outside perspective – which in my humble opinion actually helps to get a much clearer understanding of what’s happening around us … and our role therein.
Oh, and while we’re at it, I’d also like to speak out in favour of the travel sketch (which, by the way, goes well with the travel journal). I mean, obviously, there’s nothing wrong with taking photos. You know I do this too, of course. And quite a lot. I actually rarely leave without the camera (that’s why I changed my rather bulky SLR with a much handier smaller camera recently – reminds me I already wanted to tell you about this in my last letter). But sometimes, back home, when going through all these photos, I kept wondering about this place and that scene. And then I realized that apparently I have looked at some of the marvels abroad only through the viewfinder of the camera. Noticed the motive, but not really seen it. Sounds a bit sad and boring, doesn’t it? Sitting down with journal (and sketchbook), pencil and brush on the other hand always gives me the time – well, demands the time – to take a closer look. To observe. The whole scene. To perceive. The little details. The quick sketch may be inferior to the photograph regarding exactness, but it asks for a view at the overall picture – capturing a whole scene, telling a whole story with a few pencil strokes and some splashes of colour.
So, why hesitating to start a diary? Yes, I know you just complained about “My life’s not interesting enough to keep that noted in a journal.” And “I am terribly bad at writing; no one would ever like to read that stuff.” Well, my friend. That’s actually not true. First things first: There’s nothing ‘uninteresting’ – in particular if you’re travelling. I mean, every single moment is part of the overall ride, so every moment counts. Why not just write about what happened … and what didn’t? It’s totally up to you to consider the interesting person, the important thought, the noteworthy place. Interesting, important, and noteworthy to you! Because – and that’s second: If you’re able to hold a pen and know how to write, you know everything you need to write down a journal entry. It’s as easy as that: If you can say it, you can write it. Your literary talent does not matter, because first of all you’re writing for a very special audience: Yourself. If you start writing with anyone else in mind, your entries probably will not be as honest and unprejudiced then. It’s your journal. Of course, you’re free to share your thoughts with whomever you want, but that does not mean you’ve got to write for them in the first place. Do it for yourself.
What, I am asking you, what if not the perspective to write about it in the journal could be a better reason to take on the adventure of yet another formidable journey?
Browsing through the stained and dog-eared pages at a later time, some quiet minute back at home, will not only bring back these memories – the journal rather offers the priceless chance to repeat that journey, that experience, that very special moment. Actually, the journal’s a time capsule – filled with your own thoughts. A materialized déjà vu.
And that is why I sit here on my desk this morning early this year, still in the dressing gown I just thrown on, with a cup of hot coffee next to me. Right in front of me, a worn leather-bound book. To review that year, dive down memory lane and discover those few moments I almost forgot. So, come on my fried – why not trying and make an effort too?